February’s theme for the Year of Food and Drink is ‘The Food of Love.’ As a single lady, however, I’m more consumed by a Love of Food. (“If you like it, you should’ve put an onion ring on it.”) Don’t think I use food to compensate for other areas of my life though. Cheeky. All I’m saying is, the way to my heart is through
my stomach your ability to choose us a great place for dinner Friday night. And in today’s food-obsessed culture, I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one.
Let’s go back to the beginning. A desire to eat and deriving pleasure from it is basically an evolutionary response to the body’s needs. Similarly, enjoying some kinds of food more than others is a physiological reaction to the nutrients that have benefited us in the past. That’s why junk food gives us so many problems. Delicious high-energy carbs and sugar, once necessary for survival, now leave us piling on the pounds as we lead less active lifestyles.
But really, food is more complex than just biological requirements; it’s about relationships. In most religions, certain foods have symbolic value and when they must be eaten is ritualised. In previous centuries, wealth and power could be demonstrated with vast numbers of expensive dishes served at feasts. And during harvest, sharing crops was an investment for times when you might need the help of others.
Through events like these food exceeded its status as simply sustenance and gained social significance. Furthermore, what was eaten became linked to the emotions triggered by any interactions made whilst eating. And this is chemically corroborated: hormones released from the digestive system act on memory centres of the brain. Consequently, good times and good food are synonymous. Those who cook our favourite dishes are prized friends and Mum’s perfect scrambled eggs become our go-to comfort food on a bad day.
And that’s the real food of love, if you ask me. Keep your aphrodisiac-rich oysters and your fancy champagne; it’s simple, hearty foods, familiar from childhood, that I want. Grandma’s chicken soup, Dad’s fiery curry or my best pal’s double chocolate brownies.
These are the sort of dishes that work for me, evoking feelings and memories of people and places. They are the reason that I don’t think feeling full is enough any more; the best food needs to emote. When I taste something new, I’m looking for an emotional anchor to associate with the flavour. Which is why if you pick a great restaurant on our first date, I know I’m on to a winner.
The month of The Food of Love may be almost over now, but we still have another ten months to celebrate our Love of Food. There’s a wealth of great local, seasonal edibles out there to enjoy with your friends and family. So find a new dish. Make a new friend. Create a new memory. You never know, you might fall in love.
This is the second in a series of blogs reflecting on the monthly themes of the Year of Food Drink in Scotland. Read January’s, on tradition, here.